Sunday 15 December 2019

Off-colour City claim top spot but fail to shine in stalemate

Manchester City 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 1

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

James Ducker

Pep Guardiola was at the northern Football Writers' Association dinner in Manchester on Sunday, which will be best remembered for the playful sparring between the City manager and his Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp.

The Champions League trophy that Liverpool won last season was on display and anyone doubting Guardiola's desperation to be reacquainted with the cup with big ears need only have watched him gazing longingly at it as he addressed the assembled crowd.

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"Maybe we can swap?" he told Klopp, motioning to the Premier League trophy at the opposite end of the room. It was a nice line that drew plenty of chuckles from his audience but it is certainly not outlandish to think the two teams could effectively trade places this season.

For that to happen, though, City will have to play a lot better than this.

A point was enough to guarantee top spot in Group C by virtue of Atalanta beating Dinamo Zagreb, but it was one of City's more underwhelming showings in a season in which Guardiola's side have yet to hit the heights.

The bar, admittedly, has been set high so any drop off is going to be quite apparent but there was little of the zip and zest in evidence when Manor Solomon came off the substitutes' bench to cancel out Ilkay Gundogan's opening goal.

Shakhtar Donetsk's Junior Moraes in action with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Shakhtar Donetsk's Junior Moraes in action with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Victim

From an injury crisis that has claimed Sergio Aguero as its latest victim to results that got away (the 2-2 draw Tottenham) and some damaging league defeats, but it was hard to remember a first half at the Etihad that was this flat. City fans may at least have been excited by the news that they've opened talks with Raheem Sterling about extending his £300,000-a-week contract.

City had not really troubled visiting keeper Andriy Pyatov but there was always the feeling they only needed to raise the tempo to unsettle the Shakhtar and the breakthrough Guardiola craved arrived nine minutes after the restart.

Kevin de Bruyne, unsurprisingly, was the instigator, rolling a pass into Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area. Jesus held up the ball, got a lucky bounce and poked the ball through to Gundogan who calmly sidefooted the ball into the net.

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus in action with Shakhtar Donetsk's Andriy Pyatov. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus in action with Shakhtar Donetsk's Andriy Pyatov. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

City's lead was short-lived, though, and the equaliser did not flatter Shakhtar. Tete picked up the ball 30 yards out and drew in Angelino before slipping in Dodo overlapping on his right. From the right byline, the right back pulled the ball back, his cross eluding Rodri and falling into the path of Solomon to fire home, just four minutes after coming on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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